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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Eternal Ice - Chapter 3



Settling in to a world of unlife.


Chapter 3 - A Semblance of a Life

The Brothers Urza and Misrha cast long shadows. In many ways, we still live in their shade.

Their war remade the world and plunged Terisiare into the long period that culminated with its Ice Age. When they destroyed Argoth in their last battle, they shrouded in the world in clouds. They called upon the ice. They knocked the world from its orbit. They sharded off our universe from the greater universe beyond.

Their fates and punishments for this act seemed to vary according to who was telling the legend. One or both of the brothers were killed in the explosion that ended the war. One or both of the brothers were captured by the Phyrexians, machine-demons from another dimension, and trapped at the heart of that convoluted hell that is their home. One or both of the Brothers transcended and became planeswalkers, godlike figures who could move between worlds at a whim and were as far above mortal man as mortals were above animals.

Yet Urza and Mishra, if planeswalkers they were, were not the only ones of such power to tread Terisiare's freezing soil. During the millennia that led to the Ice Age, there were a multitude of such powers that arose. Brutal Tvesh Szat and cruel Freyalise, Mad Leshrac and unknowable Marit Lage . They were planeswalkers, and they rules as capricious gods up to the end of the Ice Age and the healing of the Shard. The Time of the Ice was their age, and only the bravest of the most foolish crossed them.

During the Ice Age, these great planeswalkers cast deeper shadows than the Brothers. For the Brothers were gone, while these planeswalkers still thrived, plotted, and fought on Terisiare.

-Arkol, Argivian Scholar

Jodah knows he has no choice but to do what Lim-Dûl wants of him, and thankfully what he wants, the immediate tasks at hand is something he doesn't willingly and well. While Lim-Dul has an army of phantom scholars at his disposal, they don't have enough of a true life to work in a real, coordinated manner. They argue, hoard books, steal, and can't seem to full reports on the overall progress for the answers that Lim-Dûl seeks.

Jodah changes all that. He's able to evaluate what skill sets and level of awareness that each scholar has, and is able to delegate tasks that will put those skills to good use. Ordering and organizing comes naturally to him, likely a quality he developed as the Archmage Eternal of the School of the Unseen .

The exact scholars would change from day to day, as would the details that the necromancer wanted him to follow. From gathering knowledge about the cultures that still survive to this day to anything he can find about undead of the past to planeswalkers. Actually, everything always lead to planeswalkers.

How much of the legends of Urza and Mishra were true? Did one of them really ascend? And what is the truth about Phyrexia?

Jodah knew what a planeswalker was. The legends of his own time put Urza, and often Mishra, in that category of extremely powerful beings; creatures more powerful than Jodah (when Jodah was the archmage) or even the necromancer himself. They had the ability to move between the worlds at their own whims, to bring into being legions and cause them to vanish, to fashion spells beyond the ken of mortal men.

Beyond that, there was little known save for the bits and pieces that Jodah dredged out from the innumerable volumes. No one knew for certain what made a planeswalker, or more importantly to Johda's studies, how to kill one. The best theory he encountered was that certain individuals had a twist in their nature, a "spark" that would allow the mortal to bloom into a full-fledged planeswalker. Not everyone had the spark, and not all those with the spark transcended into the greater state. The exact mechanism was unknown, but it seemed to involve great stress, perhaps even the violent death of the would-be planeswalker.

When that spark ignites, first there is madness. Time and again Jodah comes across tales of planeswalkers such as Tvesh Szat or Leshrac or Freyalise raining down destruction on mortal populations attributed to this madness. The Brothers' War is one such example. This war of planeswalker against planeswalker ended with an explosion on Argoth that had an unforseen side effect. It not only set the world on the path to this time of ice, but it also seems to have changed the nature of the world in relation to the rest of the multiverse. The planeswalkers within this plane and a select few others have found themselves trapped in this tiny pocket, this tiny shard of the greater whole, unable to walk all the other planes outside the shard, never able to go to another, which can only help to feed the madness of those who gained unimaginable power.

When it came to details about his own life, whether it was being intentionally kept from him or not, those details were few and far between. All Jodah knows is what is. As the weeks pass and Lim-Dûl seems to be less and less enthusiastic about his progress, the more and more Jodah is frightened that the necromancer will feel his usefulness is at an end, and simply spell him out of existence. As the nights pass, Jodah dreams. He dreams of a ship and a storm that rings of truth. He dreams of an encounter with goblins and a fountain that rings of truth. He dreams of a flaming man in a cage and that too has some truth to it. After a dream of being at the bedside of an old, dark haired woman as she dies, he stops recording his dreams.

What Lim-Dûl dreams of, Jodah has no idea. He doesn't seem to sleep at all. Whenever Jodah is asked to join him in the throne room, Lim-Dûl seems to always be more concerned with the maps spread out on a table, with markings indicating army camps and forces than listening to anything he has to report.

One day, while walking through the halls, Jodah spies a man in red on one of the towers, waiting as an armored figure arrives atop a dragon-sized bird. The sight of another person within the keep other than Lim-Dûl and Chaeska, Jodah runs over to find out who he is.

As he reaches the tower, the dragon-sized bird and its rider are already nothing but a speck on the horizon, however the stranger in red still stands there.

"You're real," said Jodah, and the figure turned.

Jodah at once saw his mistake. The man's bearded face was expressionless, humorless - dead. Hhis eyes showed some sign of life, but they were flickers struggling against the darkness around them. He seemed trapped between the living and the dead.

"In a sense," the red-garbed man said in answer to Jodah's question. "Perhaps in the same sense that you are real. No more real. No less."

The undead stranger introduces himself as Marton Stromgald . And Jodah recognizes the name. Much like Jarkeld, he's one of the great Kjeldoran generals as mentioned from the history books.

"You are a wraith, like myself," said the general. "A spirit kept past his time?"

Jodah nodded. "I thought I was the only one."

"He must hate you greatly to bring you back," said the general. "As greatly as he hates me."

Jodah tries to deny the general's statement, but the memory of the pain when Lim-Dûl put him in his place cuts him short, and Jodah admits he doesn't know if Lim-Dûl hates him or not. Marton smiles with his yellowed undead teeth and tells him that Lim-Dûl hates everyone. Everyone who has ever lived.

Marton then asks if Lim-Dûl has used him as a puppet yet. If his body has ever been taken over by the necromancer so that every word he says and every movement he makes is controlled by Lim-Dûl and not himself.

Jodah's a bit confused, but he's pretty sure that's never been done to him before.

The general raised his head. "Yet," he said simply. "Remember this, man. When you deal with a necromancer there are worse things than just death."

Then before Jodah can ask more, Marton tells him that Lim-Dûl approaches. His eyes close, and when they reopen, it's clear Lim-Dûl is now in control, and he commands Jodah to leave. His conversation with the general is over.

Marton becomes himself and tells Jodah one last time. He tells him that they are both puppets of Lim-Dûl... but even the puppeteer has strings of his own that are being pulled. With that said, Marton Stromgald leaves for the throne room, and that is the last time Jodah ever sees him at Tresserhorn.


...Three weeks after the summoning...

Jodah gives his daily report to the necromancer. His current focus of study has been on Marit Lage. A mythic figure who accumulated power five-hundred years ago until she was finally entombed in a crypt beneath the sea. She may or may not be a planeswalker, but if she is, she certainly isn't on the same level as Urza.

He's also stumbled across quite a few references regarding an erratic plane. As it comes close to their own, it causes all manner of disruptions, and it might be the one that he's seeking. It seems that the period between it's appearances seems to be lengthening.

But as usual, Lim-Dûl hardly listens. The maps before him take most of his attention. Lim-Dul tells him that winter is coming. The campaign will begin soon. He takes Jodah to the stained glass window and tells him just watch.

Lim-Dûl extends his arms beyond the magical barrier that keeps out the snow and cold, and out from the nearby lake march a legion of undead . And from the snow along the mountain. More and more of the undead emerge and march.

Lim-Dûl lets him know that the barbarians of the Balduvia will reach their winter camps soon. And the Kjeldorans will all gather to prepare for their annual feast . They'll group up on their own, leaving themselves vulnerable to attack.

"You see here, Jodah," he continued, "the first pebbles that will become an avalanche. Each year a few undead stumble from my keep, gathering more of their brethren from the drifts and snow banks as they move southward and eastward civilized lands, and each answers the call in turn. When they finally reach the first farms, they are many. When they reach the smaller outlying villages, they are legion. This year they will reach the walls of Soldev, or perhaps Kjeld, or Krov beyond it, and a wave of my undead will sweep through the streets, recruiting more of their type as they pass. I am a dark tide, scholar, and eventually I will swallow their lands as the glaciers more assuredly swallow mine."

Lim-Dûl stands just in front of Jodah as he summons his army, and the anger that rises within him makes him consider shoving the necromancer out the window and ending his life. Humanity doesn't deserve what he is going to unleash upon them... but if Lim-Dûl dies... so does he. Anger turns into despair and Jodah knows he can't do it, and Jodah lowers his arms while Lim-Dûl continues one oblivious to what might have happened.

"And when the legions reach their goals," continued the necromancer, "I shall take stock of the situation and visit the most promising, bringing with me the best of any troops - specters from the abyss itself, riding ghostly nightmares , wights that paralyze on the touch, and shades dropping with rime. And best of all, I will bring with me the slain from those foolish farms, and villages, and towns, such that each man at the walls will see a brother, or a commander, or a friend shambling over his defenses, marching to my banner, answering to my-"

Lim-Dûl cocks his head, as if listening to something that only he can hear. After a moment of silence, he orders Jodah to leave. Now. Jodah instantly follows his orders, and is a bit irritated at himself for so completely giving in to Lim-Dûl's every wish in such a short time.

He decides to not just return the scriptorium and instead spies upon the necromancer, and watches him set up an incantation. When Lim-Dûl is finished, he kneels, facing the throne, and waits.

Then Jodah feels it.  A pressure deep in his bones. The pressure steadily increases, and before he knows it, Jodah notices that Lim-Dûl is no longer alone.

The creature floating over the dais was humanoid but not human. Its limbs and features were hideously elongated, like the black spidery undead from the hummocks, but its flesh was a white as a granite tombstone. Deep rivulets of age had been cut into that flesh, and long white hair tumbled back as if an avalanche from its head. Around its brow, it wore a crown of fire, a ring of individual fire-pips that floated int he air, smoking without any source of fuel. They were matched by the red gleam of smocking coals that were its eyes. They were deep, malicious, and uncaring eyes.

This new figure floats above the floor, dressed in black robes, and Jodah watches Lim-Dûl extend his hands and speads a ritual prayer.


Leshrac, my liege, hear my cries.
Leshrac, my liege, accept my sacrifice.
Leshrac, my liege, judge me worthy.
Leshrac, my liege, grant me the power that I am due.


Then Jodah knew. The only thing that could make Lim-Dûl cower so was a planeswalker.

Leshrac demands an update. The necromancer tries to explain that he's had success with controlling the archmage and tells him that they've learned that something is approaching. But Leshrac already knows that. A plane approaches the shard of the multiverse that they are trapped in. All he wants to know if this approaching plane can be used to allow him to escape the shard. If it will allow him to travel the rest of the multiverse once again. Lim-Dûl tries his best to get  a word in, but all Leshrac hears are excuses. He commands Lim-Dûl to rise.

"I lust after this new gem, this new plane coming into alignment with our pitiful shard. So do my brethren, so tired are they of this dirty, cold little world. I want to be first. you want to help me get it. Don't you, beast?"

Lim-Dûl sounded as if he might cry. "Yes, my liege."

"Good answer," drawled Leshrac, and across the room Jodah shivered. "I know you, Lim-Dul, know you from the base of yours spine to your hollow heart. I know your secrets and the shadows that you think will protect you. Know this, fleshworm - I can peel you apart at a whim and cast the center of your being away. But you're more fun alive like this. You're a fleshworm, but you're my fleshworm, and you will find what I seek."

Lim-Dûl said nothing, but Jodah saw his head give a frightened nod.

"And here is a reminder, beast," said Leshrac raising a hand. "I can make you anything I want, and you will like it because you serve me. Are we clear?" Leshrac raised a hand, and reddish flame gathered in his palm.

Leshrac wraps his hand around Lim-Dûl's face and the flame glows brighter. The necromancer screams.

When it's all over, Lim-Dûl collapses to the ground, and Leshrac tells him that while he's his favorite toy, he does get bored with his toys eventually.

When Leshrac leaves, Jodah leaves his hiding spot and asks Lim-Dûl if he's okay. The sight of Jodah ignites a fury in the necromancer. He was told to leave. Now!

Jodah turns and flees Lim-Dûl's wrath. He now knows why he was commanded to research the rogue plane. He now knows why Lim-Dul wants to know how to kill a planeswalker. Hatred for his master is now being made manifest on his face. Sharp nubs have sprouted from his forehead, the beginnings of horns like those of a deer... or a beast. A constant reminder as to who holds the power.

* * *


Planeswalkers

Clearly planeswalkers are going to be a central theme to this book. Grubb taught us about magic last book, now he's going to detail what it is to be a planeswalker. In this very chapter we're shown how powerful they are by an order of magnitude compared to our hero by first demonstrating how far Jodah is beneath Lim-Dûl, and then showing how far Lim-Dûl is beneath Leshrac.


Jodah

Jodah is real. From the conversation between Lim-Dûl and Leshrac, it sounds like Leshrac captured Jodah as a gift for Lim-Dûl, and then Lim-Dûl went to work to brainwash him into thinking he was only a spell.

While I only figured it out last chapter because of the necessity of taking the time to write out these impressions, the conversation here in this chapter is way too suspicious to miss had I just plowed on straight through. The red herring of dedicating a whole chapter to summoning sickness was pretty brilliant of Grubb though. Even the title of Chapter 2 works against the reader figuring out the answer.


Marton Stromgald

Speaking of suspicious phrasing. We're told that Jodah never sees Stromgald again... at Tresserhorn. While on the surface that sounds like that's the end of it, it also leaves the possibility that if/when Jodah escapes after realizing the truth, they'll run into each other again.


Keep it coming!

This book is just plowing on ahead. One major plot development after another is being thrown at us left and right. We're in the thick of things right off the bat. Is that because The Dark was used to introduce us to Jodah, the world, and magic and the story is just going to keep on running? Or will the book exhaust itself and need to take a breather for a few chapters? All I know is that for right now, the story is moving along quite nicely.


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